No. 5 Cedar Bluff hosts eighth-ranked Pickens County


Cedar Bluff’s DeAngelo Hardy, left, celebrates a touchdown against Phillips last week with teammate Devante Dixon. Hardy, Dixon and the Tigers host Pickens County tonight. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)


Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said pressure is a word that often is misused in today’s vocabulary, and when you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.

Amazingly enough, with all the preseason expectations for a Cedar Bluff Tigers high school football team with 16 seniors, loads of talent on both sides of the ball and a top 10 ranking, pressure was a word that never entered their vocabulary.

“It wasn’t one of those deals where everybody was expecting us to do well and we didn’t have much to work with,” Cedar Bluff coach Jonathan McWhorter said. “We expected to do well. I wouldn’t say there was pressure, but we had an expectation and certain goals that we always set for our teams.”

The Tigers have accomplished two of their goals — winning the region and going undefeated — and continue their quest to accomplish the ultimate goal — the Class 1A state championship.

Fifth-ranked Cedar Bluff hosts No. 8 Pickens County on Friday night in the second round of the state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the newly renovated Bruce Field.

Cedar Bluff enters the contest at 10-0 and, behind one of the state’s most explosive offenses, hardly has been challenged this season. Friday night likely will be different against Pickens County (9-2).

“This will be the most talented team we’ve played all year,” McWhorter said. “I can’t really compare them to anybody, because they truly are a lot better than anybody we’ve played.”

But Cedar Bluff, which boasted the state’s fifth-best scoring offense in 1A during the regular season, has plenty of weapons to combat the speedy Tornadoes.

Levi Mintz is one of the top quarterbacks in Northeast Alabama. The senior has passed for 2,252 yards and 33 touchdowns against just four interceptions. His biggest playmaker to get the ball to has been DeAngelo Hardy, who has 24 receptions for 790 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has other weapons, like Rickey Pendley, Alex Hairston and Devante Dixon.

D’Shawn Fife has had a big year at running back, rushing for 1,215 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. Fife’s stats are all the more impressive when considering he was the team’s third-string running back at the beginning of the year. Robert “Bam” Henderson was lost for the season in Week 2 with an ACL tear, and backup Dalton Cosby broke his hand in Week 3. That thrust Fife into the starting role.

“He’s done a great job this year,” McWhorter said. “It’s really a testament to our offensive line and to our fullbacks who do a great job blocking, and of course D’Shawn has done his share too.”

Cedar Bluff has had to deal with several injuries this season, but always seems to bounce back with little dropoff.

“The kids are very resilient,” McWhorter said. “Nothing really seems to faze them.”

The Tigers’ resiliency likely will be tested Friday night.

Pickens County finished second behind Marion County, the state’s third-ranked team, in tough Region 5. All teams from the region won in the first round of the playoffs, including Pickens County’s 63-0 romp over Falkville last week.

The Tornadoes’ only two losses on the season were to Marion County and Class 3A Gordo in Week 10.

Pickens County will bring a spread attack into Cedar Bluff that features several playmakers in the backfield and at wide receiver. The offensive and defensive lines embody a lot of size, too.

Quarterback Devonte Simon engineers an offense that is averaging 42 points per game. Jermarcus Brown is a big-time running back, and he looks to stay hot after rushing for 186 yards last week against Falkville.

Nick Combs, who leads Cedar Bluff in tackles and is tied with Shane Hall and Hardy for the team lead in sacks with five, along with Blake Terry, CJ Gilreath and Lee Hughes will be counted on to slow down the Tornadoes.

Cedar Bluff will look to solve a defensive attack that allowed just 25 yards of offense and two first downs against Falkville in the first round.

“They have speed at every position,” McWhorter said. “Offensively, all their skill guys can run — quarterback, tailback all their receivers — and plenty of speed to spare.

“On both sides of the ball, their line of scrimmages are big. They’re big athletic kids and they’re used to dominating their opponents. Just a very, very talented team and well-coached.”